*OSCAR CONTENDER THE WAKE* directed by Luis Gerard: “Everyone I work with is different, and no process is ever the same; it’s just a matter of understanding who you’re working with and being able to adapt”

Interview with Luis Gerard

An excellent short that puts ‘Gun Violence front and centre in the US,’ What was your inspiration to introduce a deaf-mute child?

The curious thing is that when I came up with the idea for “THE WAKE,” Zander’s character was not deaf. In fact, when I started writing the script, his character spoke quite a bit. I came up with the idea entirely out of the blue as I wrote the very last scene of the movie. I don’t want to write spoilers but adding deafness into that scene impacted it considerably.

The more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it, and not only because of what it did for the movie dramatically. I thought having a lead I wasn’t used to seeing in movies would make it a fresher short film. I must note that I wrote “THE WAKE” back in early 2017 and shot it in early 2019, so “CODA,” “SOUND OF METAL,” and a few others had not been made or released. Unfortunately, my film wasn’t finished until early this year due to the pandemic and other factors, so maybe it lost some of that freshness, but I think it made it a better movie regardless.

How long did it take for the crew to learn sign language?

The cast had about a month and a half to learn their lines in ASL. Braden Kenopic, a young Canadian actor, also deaf, was our ASL coach and played a crucial role in the production. He recorded himself interpreting everyone’s lines in ASL and then sent the cast his video so they could practice on their own time. Braden was with us during every rehearsal and the shoot, so he was vital not just for the cast but for me as well; I wouldn’t move from a take unless he approved the ASL side. The last thing I wanted was to disrespect the ASL community with something that wasn’t genuine, so everyone worked hard to ensure that the hand signals were perfect. 

Did you have a sign language expert explain to Martin Carpenter (Zander Colbeck-Bhola) how you wanted him to play scenes? 

Yes, I had a different ASL interpreter who translated for me when I directed Zander. Sometimes it was challenging to direct through an interpreter, partly because this was Zander’s first time in front of a camera. I’ve worked with kids with no acting experience, and I enjoy it, but being unable to speak to your actor directly makes the process longer and requires patience, especially when they are this young. That might’ve been one of the hardest things about directing this movie, but it also turned it into a memorable and satisfying experience that I wouldn’t change.

What experience have you gained from working with an actor who is deaf-mute?

To some extent, I could say that I learned a lot by osmosis. Spending time with Zander and his family was an education. Like in CODA, most of Zander’s family is deaf; he has two brothers and two sisters, and only the youngest girl can hear and speak. His parents are deaf too, so this shocked me because I didn’t know that an entire family could be deaf. Besides interacting with them on set or during rehearsals, I had the privilege to spend time at their home, allowing me to see how they lived and communicated. That alone was very insightful and opened my eyes to a world I knew very little about; it gave me a better understanding of the deaf community and was something I’ll never forget. Hopefully, the experience has made me a wiser and better director and prepared me for future experiences.

How will you put this experience to good use in future collaborations with actors with various disabilities?

Honestly, I don’t think working with people with disabilities is that much different from working with regular actors. Everyone I work with is different, and no process is ever the same; it’s just a matter of understanding who you’re working with and being able to adapt. As a director, you can’t direct every actor in the same manner; I must find ways to adapt to their personality in order to get the best performance out of them. And that’s precisely how I approach an actor with a disability. I find the best way to connect with the person and go from there.

At one point, we considered the possibility of working with an actor to play deaf instead of going for the real thing, but I’m very happy with the decision I made. I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

Have you considered making it into a feature-length film?

Yes! I already have a script. It’s a bit different from the short, but the main characters are the same.

Luis Gerard, the storyline is excellent, was the concept/idea a collaboration or did you personally write it?

I’m glad you enjoyed it so much; thank you! “THE WAKE” is an original story, and I wrote it alone. Something funny about this film is that I didn’t realize how personal it was until I started editing. I wrote the script super-fast and without thinking I would get a chance to direct it. I thought it would end up in a hard drive like other scripts I had written; therefore, I didn’t analyze where some ideas came from until I sat in the cutting room years later. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s